Friday, July 06, 2007

'Great Expectations'

Dean and I are in the middle of watching a BBC dramatization of "Great Expectations", filmed in 1999. Part 1 was broadcast on TVO last Sunday night, from 8:00PM to 10:00PM, and the second half will be shown this Sunday. I highly recommend it, at least based on what we've seen so far. There have been many adaptations, but I don't think I've seen many of them - the 1946 David Lean version is the only one that I really remember, and I'm sure I only watched that because it had Alec Guinness in it.

One of the problems with film versions of Dickens is that they so often bring out the part of his writing that I dislike the most - the goody-goody characters, the sentimentality, the implausible deus ex machina happy endings. That's always there, of course, but what I remember the most from Dickens is the weird, nightmarish, horror aspects. The vignettes that stick in my mind are always the dark ones - Bill Sykes climbing over the roofs, trying to escape, then accidentally hanging himself. And his dog leaping up to his body, and falling down to its death. With 'Dombey and Son', what I remember most is James Carker's desperate flight across France, pursued by Dombey. It's a perfect description of an ongoing nervous breakdown, and it ends with him cornered and struck down by a train. Who cares about silly Florence and her tepid romance with Walter? Or saintly John Carker and long-suffering Harriet? Ugh.

Anyway, THIS version of 'Great Expectations' really plays up the dark, nightmarish side of the story. Those moors where Pip lives LOOK like a suitable place for a murder. London is no better - crowded, chaotic, blood from slaughtered livestock all over the place. And Miss Havisham is great - able to keep up a veneer of "normality", but the sinister vibes just roll off of her. We first see her face reflected in an old dusty mirror, rather distorted as she looks with surprise at Pip. "I sometimes have sick fancies," she murmurs, and I immediately wondered what sort of ghosts she regularly sees, that she might have mistaken him for an apparition. The whole story FEELS like a ghost story without the ghost - all these tales of murders and attacks and betrayals in the past, and all that's missing is an actual spook to come walking through the walls.

I've only just seen Estella as a grownup - she appeared at the very end of part 1. The little actress who played her as a child was wonderful, though. Darkly beautiful and sullen - reminded me a little of Louise Brooks. And she had very much the air of a child who's already been corrupted and ruined, without really knowing how or why. Great stuff.

The actor who plays Pip as a grownup is Ioan Gruffudd. TVO had previously shown all the Hornblower series in this same time slot. I'm thinking that maybe they're just going to turn this section of their schedule into a Gruffudd shrine, and show everything he's ever been in! I like him fine, but I find some of his head-bobbing mannerisms a little annoying after awhile.

Anyway, if this available where you are, I highly recommend it. I hope the second part is equal to the first.

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